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Waterfowl Management Guidelines
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without the prior written permission of the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust

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Waterfowl Management Guidelines

Ducks - Geese - Swans - Flamingos



Author: Tony Richardson


APPENDIX (Separate page)

Contact Details:
The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust
Tel: 01453 891 900
Fax: 01453 890 827


These guidelines on the Management of Waterfowl were produced as part of the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) commissioned UK Zoo Standards Review, 1999.

They should be seen as complimentary to many of the general standards for birds within the UK Zoo Standards, but it is suggested that, where they are contradictory, these guidelines are substituted for the general standard, and form the basis of a specific standard for waterfowl and flamingos in captivity under the UK Zoo Licensing Act.

The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust have developed a detailed Appendix to accompany these guidelines providing species specific information for accomodation design, specialised requirements etc. This will is linked to this document and to relevant species pages within Wildpro.

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Pens and enclosures

Non-domestic waterfowl must always be kept in an exhibit which is fox-proof, without the need to shut them in to a house or shed overnight. This does not apply to domesticated waterfowl types, where this practice is widespread and acceptable.

Pairs of swans, some goose and duck species, sometimes individual birds, may need to be kept separately, due to incompatibility with birds of the same species and/or birds of other species. Provision for this should be made at all times. ( See Appendix)

Swans and geese and some species of duck need access to grass for food. (See Appendix). Supplementary feeding , in the form of pellets can be a substitute in the winter months, when grass levels are low. The stocking density and types of birds in any pen should reflect the fact that grass will need to re-establish itself in the spring.

As a general rule, ducks, swans and flamingos need water to drink, bathe, breed, swim and live. Water should ideally be flowing at all times, with fresh supplies for topping up or through flow available. Pens should be at least 50% water to land, although this can vary with flamingos needing much more of a wet pen with substantial, but not exclusively, areas of shallow water. As a general rule, geese need water to drink, bathe and breed, and a greater need for grass. Therefore a pen that is 20% water to land is acceptable, although in a bigger enclosure where there is sufficient land available, a larger water area is preferred. Flamingos will need a small area of deeper water (one metre) where they can swim and copulate. Diving duck species (require at least 50% of their water area to be at least 600mm and ideally one metre in depth. (See Appendix)

All birds should ideally be able to get out of a water body wherever they choose. Therefore edges should be sloping, with the gradient no steeper than 30 degrees. It is often acceptable to have ramps in place where this is not possible however, but this is not ideal especially with diving duck spp.

Size of enclosure and carrying capacity. This can be complicated as many birds are kept in small or even large flocks. As a general guideline a minimum size for a pair of birds in the following categories would be as follows:-

  • small duck, (teal, smew) - 50 m2
  • large duck, (yellowbill, shelduck) - 100 m2
  • small goose, (orinoco, red-breasted) - 200 m2
  • large goose, (cereopsis, pinkfoot) - 300 m2
  • swan, (trumpeter, bewick’s) - 400 m2
  • flamingo group of 10 birds - 400 m2

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Shelter and Winter Quarters

Flamingos should have access to winter quarters, which can be heated and lit. Such quarters should be well ventilated, capable of daily cleaning, have dry, but washable land areas which have suitable matting (eg Butyl) put down to protect the bird’s feet, and ideally a flowing internal pool or pond where the silt can be easily removed as and when necessary.

Enclosures for waterfowl that are susceptible to cold weather should contain shelters or such natural vegetation which will afford shelter. Provision for very delicate species in the severest weather should be made, if necessary off display. (See Appendix)


Facilities for breeding, such as the provision of appropriate nest boxes and/or nesting material should be available, where it is desirable to propagate the species in captivity. It is important that the keeper understands the size requirements for the nest box hole, and the level of material within the box, in order that the bird has the best opportunity to breed and is able to get in and out of the box with safety. Note, waterfowl do not take nesting material into a box, so this is important.

Artificial incubation and rearing facilities when and where used should be of the highest standards in hygiene and methodology. (We will be producing a full husbandry manual which will give a break down of materials, tasks etc. in due course).

It is important to minimise the risk of hybridisation between species, by not placing similar or closely related birds in the same pen.

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Minimising disturbance

Any waterfowl that are wild and under rehabilitation should not be in an enclosure where they are on view to the public. No enclosure should have direct public access on all sides of it. This can be dealt with by screen planting if necessary. Care should be taken however in the selection of species of plants as some can be a problem to birds. For example, avoid infestations of thistles, especially Spear Thistle, which can cause cuts on the feet of the birds, which can readily become infected.

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It is important that the food fed to Waterfowl is fresh and that if food is fed into water, which is usual, particularly with wheat an barley and some specialist feeds (flamingos, sea-ducks) then only as much as will be readily eaten is fed in this way.

All food stored must be kept in a dry condition in heated buildings if necessary. If it becomes damp it should not be used.

All feed containers in pens should be cleaned regularly.

Grit should be available on a regular basis, and additional limestone grit should be fed on available annually, just prior to the egg laying season.

The best specialised diets available in the UK for waterfowl, are made by Clarke and Butcher, Bibby’s and Special Diet services. These include the higher protein flamingo and sea-duck diets, maintenance and breeder pellet supplements and duckling rearer and grower diets.

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The main standards cover this area well, but special emphasis needs to be placed on the thorough removal of any rotting food or vegetation, in order to minimise the risk of respiratory diseases which can be a problem with waterfowl. Grass cuttings should be picked up immediately and never left in a heap, even for a matter of hours.

If pens can be rested for part of the year, it is worth doing. Rotating pens especially if it takes pressure off grass areas is recommended from time to time. This is less of a potential problem if bird stocking density is relatively low.

Weils Disease or Leptospirosis is a particular risk to those working in or near water. Specific Instructions are to be in place for all staff and volunteers about this remote but potential risk of infection.

The same applies to Tetanus. All staff keep their vaccinations up to date at all times.

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On the whole the standards as proposed would appear to cover most of the points that are applicable to waterfowl.

Flamingo pinioning should be carried out at two days old on the nest.

Flamingos should not be close ringed, but can be transponder chipped when they are fully fledged.

Consideration of the whole flock should be given when working with flamingos. A limp on a bird might clear up in a day or so, so observation is important. The disturbance to a whole flock could cause greater problems to more birds.

Birds, especially geese should be wormed, ideally in feed at least once a year, normally in the Autumn. In some cases where there are more serious problems, twice a year may be necessary.

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Ensure that steps are taken and protocols are in place to inform MAFF of any worrying deaths or sick birds that occur (post mortems should be carried out on all birds that die in the collection, with unusual ones taken to MAFF); Duck Virus Enteritis is a particularly worrying example, often striking birds down suddenly during April and May.

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The biggest predator of waterfowl in collections in the UK is the fox. Where a perimeter barrier is not able to be reached by the public, then it is essential that a pulsed agricultural electric fence, whether mains or battery operated can be fixed to the perimeter fencing in three places at a height of less than two metres above the ground. More to the point, such fencing is often essential for the protection of captive waterfowl, unless the fence is at least 3 metres high.

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Exotic species of waterfowl in common with other exotic animal species cannot be released into the wild in the UK, under the provision of the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981). Waterfowl, including flamingos, are particularly well adapted to a flightless existence, so long as adequate provision is made for their well being in all respects. This should include an appropriate enclosure; security and well being (eg. can get away from people, not at risk from predators, heated winter quarters if necessary) 12 months of the year; permanent access to water; regular and routine access to food.

Pinioning, or the removal of one wing tip between the ages of two and seven days is the recommended way of preventing the birds from flying. When carried out by a trained aviculturalist (it is not essential to use a veterinary surgeon), this is a minor procedure that the bird often appears unaware of. The size of the wing of all waterfowl species are disproportionately small on a downy, when compared to an older bird. Removing the same section of wing from the bird once fully grown is a full surgical operation, and although usually carried out with success, is to be avoided. It is defined as a mutilation and must be regarded by a veterinary surgeon as a necessity. This method should therefore never be the laid down management policy of a waterfowl keeper.

As a matter of practice, this operation should not take place on individual birds that have experienced flight .

One or two species, e.g. Ringed Teal or Pygmy Geese are highly suitable aviary or tropical house birds, and in these cases keeping them fully winged under netting is a good idea. It is not essential however, and the opposite is usually true of most other waterfowl species. If you keep them fully winged in an aviary, then they will often try to fly, only to be foiled by the aviary. This can be very stressful and is not a satisfactory alternative to pinioning, as described above. (See Appendix)

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